With great roads, driving in Europe is a great way to indulge in its dramatic scenery. It may also be necessary when staying in a villa or apartment located outside major cities. Considering driving is easier said than done when you’re from a foreign country.
Having to familiarize one’s self and to remember Europe’s driving rules are daunting as it is. You may also be worried about getting stuck in London’s roundabout as per the more memorable scene from National Lampoon’s European Vacation.
In order to address this woes, you can hire a full-time chauffeur to drive for you. However, it will be costly and your companions may not approve of it. So you will need to know the general guidelines about driving in Europe to avoid running into problems especially if you are the assigned driver.
Expect Aggressive Driving
If you’re driving in Italy, France, and most especially in England, a leading country in the world for road rage, you will need to stay calmer and more focused in order to drive with confidence in Europe.
British roads can be congested. And with average speed hoving around at 11 mph in London, drivers may tailgate you, honk, or yell just to get everyone to drive faster. It is best not to react with aggressive tactics of your own out of frustration or annoyance. Antagonizing selfish drivers may only increase danger and can lead to a road rage incident.
Meanwhile, as you reach Germany, Germans cruising at over 140 mph is common due to good roads and tires. You have to drive as fast if the rules state it. More importantly, it still boils down to focus. You can’t do anything else while driving so you can act quickly.
If you find yourself driving in Europe at a slow pace, let the cars drive around you. Pull over if someone flashes their lights. It just takes a few seconds so you can continue driving in peace after. Stubbornness is rude which may make you on the receiving end of yelling, cursing, and honking.
Speaking of honking, be thoughtful about the usage of it. Others may use it to communicate anger but don’t do it too. Aggressive driving doesn’t make you a better driver. Use honking for its original purpose of potential crash or danger.
When you find yourself driving in France, a roundabout, an efficient form of an intersection without a traffic light, is commonly encountered. So it is important to know the general rules in case you don’t see the “yield sign” at the entrance of a roundabout.
The traffic flows anti-clockwise. Vehicles inside the roundabout have the right of way so you should prioritize letting them out first. When you’re already driving inside the roundabout, stay on the outside lane if you are exiting. Make sure you use a signal when doing so. Stay in the inside lane if you need to make a U-turn or left turn.
This is easier said than done especially if you’re driving in Arc de Triomphe roundabout as it has 8-lane with no visible lanes painted on the ground. The plus side here is that you may circle it as many times as you need. So don’t be discouraged if you miss your exit the first time.
Road Signs to Remember
Since the implementation of the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals in 1978, members of the European Union utilize a standard set of signs and signals You should familiarize yourself with it to make driving in Europe easier for you.
What you’ll see below are the common advisements and sights and not one that is valid only in a particular country. It may not be all of it but it helps.
- An inverted white triangle with a red border means that you need to give priority to oncoming traffic when entering. It is otherwise known as yield and may not have a text indication.
- A yellow diamond sign indicates that you have the right of way at approaching intersections. Other lanes of travel will yield.
- If there are two cars inside a red circle, one black, and one red, neither passing nor overtaking is allowed for the duration of the no passing zone.
Prohibitive and Restrictive Signs
- A blue circle with white numbers indicates the minimum traveling speed zone. A number will be indicated on it.
- A red circle with a dash inside means no entry is permitted. This is usually due to an approaching one-way traffic.
- A red circle with a slash on a blue background means no parking is permitted in the advised zone.
- A white circle with a red border and a car inside it means vehicles are not allowed in the approaching area.
Direction, Position, and Indication Signs
- A sign with arrows arranged in a circle means you’ll be approaching a roundabout. The sign will indicate the direction of the exit.
- An upright triangle with a red border advises the public of a particular form of danger as indicated e.g. merging lanes, bumps, etc.
A good rule of thumb is to use common sense to avoid parking inconveniences. Don’t assume that just because there is no meter, you can leave your car. If the rules are unclear to you, ask locals.
Finding a parking spot in European cities are fairly difficult as it is not designed for parking. Prices of parking in central areas are at a steep price. Meanwhile, at touristy places where pedestrians are prioritized, cities have removed parking spots. Thus, it is best to park on the outskirts of a metro stop and take the public transportation.
Another alternative is to park on the outskirts of town and avail government sponsored park-and-rides if applicable. You spend less because the parking itself may be free. At the same time, you avoid having to park at Europe’s narrow streets.
Despite the availability of cashless payments via credit cards and mounted tags for tolls, it is always a great idea to bring cash. Some of the reasons include the following:
- You may need to fill up at an old gas stations which only accepts cash for payment.
- There are still toll roads which will require you to pay cash.
- In a lot of countries like France, if you incur a violation, you will need to pay the fine to the office on the sport. It is good to be ready in case it happens.
It may seem that European drivers are aggressive but you have to know that they are just accustomed to their ways. Keep in mind all the information in this and follow the rules. Driving in Europe will soon be a breeze for you. Finally, one important piece of advice to all Americans driving in Europe: keep both of your hands on the wheel and focus.